A new Souls-like has hit the scene but one unlike any other you’ve played. During my review, it became apparent that The Last Hero of Nostalgaia had traded in the gloomy seriousness found in the genre for a more comedic and goofy tone. It blends action battle mechanics with the satirical type of comedy one would expect from something like The Stanley Parable.
The Last Hero of Nostalgaia is the third game by the developers Over The Moon. They’re behind The Fall which was declared the best story during their Game of the Year editorial back in 2014. With that in mind, will The Last Hero of Nostalgaia further the momentum of their acclaim?
The Last Hero of Nostalgaia is available now on Steam, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S for $24.99.
Story – Stop the Pixels!
To immediately answer the question I just laid out: no. I haven’t played The Fall so I cannot directly compare but I really don’t see The Last Hero of Nostalgaia winning best story. It’s in no way a bad story. It’s adequately written and there are a few twists to keep it interesting. There’s plenty of reading material for Souls players who love combing over item descriptions. There are also plenty of easter eggs of other games, showing off Over the Moon’s nerd credentials. But at its core, it’s really just another Souls-like.
Nostalgaia, other than being an above-average pun, is the world of video games and it’s reverting backward, represented by the graphics becoming more and more pixelated. It is up to you to help fix the world before it blinks out of existence. And how do you do that? By killing bosses. It’s a Souls-like. There are four major bosses in the game to defeat and restore the heart of Nostalgaia. You are the most pixelated thing yet to be born into Nostalgaia, and you’re despised for it. This is where the narrator comes in.
Other than a couple of friendly NPCs, most of the dialogue is given to you by the cynical narrator. He’s the only character that shows any sort of character arc. He begins by hating your very existence then slowly comes to recognize you as the hero you are. It’s hard not to hear the narrator as a direct rip-off of the Stanley Parable narrator but I think that’s the point, considering how many nods Nostalgaia makes to other game franchises. For the most part, I think the narrator works. The voice acting is good, his lines are well-written and he’s charming enough.
The issue is that there’s not enough of him. Sometimes you’ll be playing for over an hour then he’ll chime in with something and you’d completely forget he was there until then. What made the Stanley Parable narrator so effective was that he was contant. Without him, all you would’ve been doing is walking through a bunch of empty hallways. In the case of Nostalgaia, there’s too much breaking up of the narrative segments. I get that voice-over is expensive, but it could’ve been fixed with a randomized assortment of responses to certain gameplay actions. Chastise me when I die and cheer me on when I defeat enemies. Not so much that he gets annoying, but enough to remind you that he’s there.
Gameplay – Ever Played Dark Souls?
In terms of straight feel, The Last Hero of Nostalgaia is probably on the lower end of Souls-like gameplay. So the fact that I still had fun with it shows how much I like the genre. It does introduce a couple of things that I think are great ideas but in terms of the core loop, it doesn’t break past the genre average.
The Core Loop
Like all Souls-likes, the core loop of The Last Hero of Nostalgaia has you smacking enemies with weapons, dodging or blocking their attacks, and managing your stamina gauge. It takes a lot of liberties from the original Dark Souls. You can two-hand your weapon for slower but stronger attacks. You have two weapon slots for your right hand and two for your left. There are beacons that reset all the enemies, and that you use to level up and restore your healing items. Enemies drop currency to level your myriad of stats. All that jazz.
The main issue that plagued me was how everything was tuned. The animations tend to carry on a few frames too long. Dodging feels slow and awkward, and doesn’t travel as far as I’m used to. Attacks all feel slow and their range feels inconsistent. There were many times when it felt like my sword definitely hit the enemy but didn’t register. When you lock onto enemies, the camera dips down instead of rising up so your character will sometimes get in the way and you won’t see what the opponent is doing. Healing takes way too long. I thought I hated how long it took to drink your flask in Dark Souls, but this transcends that.
As usual, you get more used to it the more you play. But even up until the end, it just felt off. The enemy designs didn’t help either. The vast majority of enemies are small grunt-type enemies, so much so that it gets tedious. In the later stages, there’s a lot more diversity and it’s much better but it also means that the first around seventy percent of the game has very little variety. The bosses, though, they’re good.
You learn pretty early on that there are four major bosses in the game, and there are a few more on the journey. It’s evident that a lot of thought went into them. I went through a rollercoaster of emotions while getting through the second main boss. First, I was impressed with the boss’s design, then I was cursing it for being annoying, then I ultimately fell on the opinion that it was pretty satisfying. They adequately set up their unique mechanics, then ramp up in difficulty throughout the fight. Solid Souls-like stuff right there.
The New Stuff
In terms of new mechanics that The Last Hero of Nostalgaia brings to the genre, there’s some good stuff and some misguided stuff. Nestled nicely in the good stuff category are the equipment memories. As you progress, you pick up a variety of weapons and armor that closely resemble equipment from other games. A Keyblade and a Hyrule Shield are a couple of examples. But when you first find them, they’re in their pixelated weak form. In order to unlock their 3D models, and their true stats, you are given a short hint leading you to their associated memory. The memories can be found anywhere in the world of Nostalgaia, and they also give you a whole story to go with the weapon. I loved this mechanic. It provides a fun scavenger hunt while offering satisfying benefits lore-wise, aesthetically, and mechanically.
In the misguided category, is the 2D wall mechanic. In the trailer, you see the player walk up to a wall then turn 2D and merge with it for traversal. Essentially, they took the painting mechanic from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and they haphazardly threw it in. The reason that mechanic works so well in A Link Between Worlds is that the whole game is built around it. It’s as core to the game as something like jumping in a Mario game. In The Last Hero of Nostalgaia, it’s used in late-game to pick up a few treasures here and there, and that’s it. When I saw it being used in the trailer, I got excited. Thinking there would be some cool puzzles that had you switching between dimensions. I was sorely disappointed.
Graphics & Sound – Homely and Charming
It’s almost not worth talking about the sound of The Last Hero of Nostalgaia considering how empty it is. Music only really plays during the boss fights, otherwise, all you’re hearing are ambient tones. It’s pretty expected of the genre at this point so it’s not exactly a fault. One annoying thing about the sound design, though, is the enemy sounds. There are maybe five groan samples for all of the enemies in the game which feels repetitive and lazy. All the other sound effects are fine though.
I found the aesthetic to be quite charming for the most part. The premise is that the world of Nostalgaia is slowly reverting back to older graphics, so objects and environments are shifting constantly between 3D and 2D. The idea is interesting and they do a great job of presenting it.
The shining grace, and why I’m rating this game higher than you would expect after reading the article, is the level design. It’s the exact type of level design that I love. Big labyrinthine mazes that fold in on themselves, opening shortcuts back to earlier areas. It’s the main reason I can’t stop playing the old Resident Evil games to this day. It’s so satisfying when you open some new door and get that feeling of familiarity, with an old beacon to rest at.
There’s a good variety of environments. From a dilapidated town to a dark forest to a big castle mansion. And each environment is distinct and unique from one another. I was impressed with how much they were able to pack in while keeping the game feeling domestic. Right when you feel like you’re getting to an end of an area, it’ll pull out a whole new environment for you to explore. Every area has different mechanics and needs to be approached differently. Despite the world of Nostalgaia falling to pixelated ruin, there are plenty of beautiful landscapes and visuals.
The Last Hero of Nostalgaia was reviewed on PC with a key provided by Plan of Attack.